Yeltsin Is Elected Russia President : Soviet Union: Gorbachev’s maverick rival heads the nation’s largest republic. But he promises to meet with all sides before picking a government.
Bolstered by Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s opposition, Communist radical Boris N. Yeltsin finally got what he wanted Tuesday, the presidency of Russia, by promising the republic’s Congress he would consult with all political points of view before forming a government.
Outside the Kremlin’s brick walls, Yeltsin backers cheered and wept with joy at news of the silver-haired maverick’s victory which reportedly came despite a final appeal from Gorbachev. Their 59-year-old hero, the best-known critic of Gorbachev’s reforms on the political left, beat out the Soviet leader’s favored candidate, Alexander V. Vlasov, the huge republic’s prime minister.
It was a clear loss of face for Gorbachev, who had flown out of Moscow earlier in the day to Ottawa and a two-day visit before going on to his Washington summit with President Bush. Last week, in a stop-Yeltsin maneuver, Gorbachev took the floor at the republic’s Congress to accuse him of advocating the breakup of the Soviet Union, but many deputies said the Soviet leader’s criticism only boosted Yeltsin’s chances.
Asked on arrival in Ottawa about Yeltsin’s victory, Gorbachev said the radical firebrand had moved closer to mainstream party positions and credited his election to that shift.
“This is not just a political game he plays,” Gorbachev said. “He has had to adjust his policy very seriously over the past few days, and he has adjusted it to the better. If he is playing political games, then maybe we are in for difficult times. We will have to see.”
Yeltsin’s triumph gives the once-disgraced populist a high-profile post he can exploit to press his demands for faster, more radical change, and it makes him the No. 1 government official in the vast expanse of the Russian Federation, by far the Soviet Union’s biggest, richest and most populous republic.
The son of Ural Mountain peasants assumes the presidency--formally called the chairmanship of the Russian Federation Supreme Soviet, or legislature--as popular disgruntlement with the meager fruits of Gorbachev’s social and economic reforms reaches a peak and something akin to panic is in the air over the Kremlin’s plan to create a “managed market economy.”
In Yeltsin, millions of Soviet citizens will see a savior. But whether the former construction engineer who has made his political fortune by criticizing privileges of the powerful and Kremlin policy from the outside can deliver in his new office remains to be seen.
“I pledge not to spare anything--health or time--to do everything to get out of this crisis and lead Russia to better times,” he said from the dais of the Grand Kremlin Palace after his election was announced.
His booming baritone filling the hall, Yeltsin called his election by the Congress “the beginning of the road to Russia’s social, economic, and spiritual rebirth, the way out of the crisis and toward the blossoming of Russia.”
The broad-shouldered Siberian had been the top vote-getter in two previous rounds of voting in the Congress, but he had failed to garner the 531 votes, or one more than half the membership of the 1,060-seat body that were needed for victory.
On Monday, he was nominated again to face Vlasov and Valentin Tsoi, an ethnic Korean and a businessman from the city of Khabarovsk in the Soviet Far East. In the balloting, Yeltsin got 535 votes, or only four more than needed. Vlasov, who is also a non-voting member of the Politburo, received 467, and Tsoi 11.
In a last-minute tactic that failed, the Communist Party had reinstated Vlasov as its candidate on Monday, three days after dropping him in favor of a hard-liner, Ivan K. Polozkov, the party chief from Krasnodar, in southern Russia.
Yeltsin offered conservatives a share in a future coalition government on Monday, saying he would hold negotiations with all factions in the Congress on nominees for prime minister and other key posts. That proposal made the apparent difference from the previous two rounds of voting.
A “conciliation commission” representing the Parliament’s more than 20 organized factions was to meet at 10 a.m. today in the Kremlin’s St. George Hall to begin talks immediately about the formation of the Russian Republic’s new government.
Speaking in Ottawa, Gorbachev noted how divided the Russian Congress became in its “epic struggle” for a new leader and said that in the face of Russia’s pressing problems, “the most important challenge is to consolidate the efforts of everyone.”
Gorbachev said that the situation caused “concern” among the people because “Russia is facing very difficult challenges. There is a need for cooperation, for working together. Instead, there was a confrontation.”
Yeltsin was mobbed as he left the Kremlin by several hundred joyful and misty-eyed well-wishers shouting “Victory! Victory!” He told state-run television that for Russia he wanted “sovereignty from the bottom to the top . . . such independence under which Russian laws and the constitution have a priority over those of the (Soviet) Union.”
But the extent of the Russian Federation’s powers, like those of Yeltsin himself, have yet to be precisely defined in the shifting realities of Soviet politics and Gorbachev’s quest to maintain a strong national government while devolving more powers to local officials. At any rate, the outgoing Russian president, Vitaly I. Vorotnikov, was an almost invisible figure. No one expects Yeltsin to follow his example.
With Yeltsin’s victory, the sort of relations he will have with Gorbachev, his former mentor, immediately became a topic of speculation. According to the independent Interfax news service, Gorbachev renewed his criticisms of Yeltsin at a meeting attended by secretaries of the party Central Committee and legislators Monday night, but obviously to little avail.
For his part, Yeltsin vowed to put aside “everything that’s personal” in his relations with Gorbachev, who in 1987 engineered his ouster from the post of Moscow party boss, to which he had named him two years earlier. The break between the two men was over Yeltsin’s criticisms that the perestroika reforms designed by Gorbachev were proceeding too slowly.
Whatever his intentions, however, Yeltsin is on record in his autobiography, “Against the Grain,” as calling Gorbachev “my perpetual opponent.”
Despite such opposition, Yeltsin staged a stunning political comeback without parallel in Soviet politics by scoring a landslide victory in elections to the national Parliament last year, and he easily won a seat in the Russian Congress of People’s Deputies this spring.
Faced with Yeltsin’s latest victory, considered a long shot last week when the nominating process in the Congress began, Soviet officials worked hard to put the best possible spin on things. Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady I. Gerasimov said it could be a boost for Gorbachev’s drive for change.
“The Soviet Union is a democracy, so we accept what the Russian Parliament has decided,” Gerasimov told reporters at the United Nations in New York. “It may be a blessing in disguise. President Gorbachev has his critics from both the left and the right, and possibly it is better to have the election of a critic from the left.”
And Vitaly Churkin, Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze’s principal adviser on foreign affairs, said in an interview with NBC television that the election could strengthen Gorbachev’s campaign for economic reforms.
“I think . . . the election of Mr. Yeltsin . . . might actually help Gorbachev because Gorbachev is for radical reform, and he needs more popular support for that,” Churkin said in Washington, where he is helping to prepare the summit. “And Mr. Yeltsin has assured people that if elected he is going to cooperate with Mr. Gorbachev. That might generate more popular support for more radical economic reform, which President Gorbachev has been advocating.”
A Communist Party official, Igor Malashenko, added that Yeltsin, seen by many Soviet citizens as the solution to the country’s woes, would now be viewed as part of the problem.
“Today, many people blame Gorbachev for problems, and now they have another person to blame,” he said.
In other developments, the Soviet Union’s national legislature, which is heatedly debating the government’s proposals for economic reforms, voted down a request by radical lawmakers to submit Prime Minister Nikolai I. Ryzhkov to a vote of no-confidence.
Radicals say Ryzhkov’s proposals don’t go far enough to end the centralized, bureaucratic restraints on economic activity that have been part of the Soviet system since the days of Stalin.
Appearing before the Supreme Soviet, Ryzhkov vigorously defended the program, which will lead to an average doubling in the prices of foodstuffs, now subsidized by government expenditures of tens of billions of rubles yearly.
THE QUOTABLE YELTSIN
ON THE NATION--"(The Soviet Union) now is crumbling under growing dissatisfaction of the people.”
“Although 48 million Soviet citizens are living below the lowest standard of living, the leaders are indulging in the most unnecessary luxuries.”
ON GORBACHEV--"(He) has lost control of himself and lost political control of the country.”
“While Thatcher rides in a car with two other people, Gorbachev uses a procession of four luxury cars plus an escort.”
ON GOVERNMENT--"I am not for socialism for socialism’s sake. I am for a government the people respect and for a government that respects the people.”
ON RUSSIA--"It’s time the central government stopped biting pieces off Russia.”
ON COMMUNISTS--"There must be no monopoly of power. Down with the Communists!”
“The transition to a multi-party system is just a question of time.”
ON ETHNIC UNREST--"It is a mistake to dispatch troops and suppress ethnic problems by armed force.”
ON REFORM-- “Perestroika at present is going round and getting nowhere.”